rise of the women
A Long narrow road snakes its way connected to the Savar-Damrai highway. Trucks, cars and even diminutive rickshaws have difficulty making their way through. This road leads to an old village called Islampur. People of many different professions reside here with the most famous being in Paalpara or Kumarpara. The long winding road is lined with piles of clay, flower pots and other earthen decoration pieces. Orders come in for these materials from Dhaka all the time. The women folk of the Kumarbaari are busy day and night filling out these orders. Some of them soften the clay by stomping on it with their feet while others are busy picking out intricate patterns on the soft earth. At one time all the men of the households used to do this job. All this changed because of a murder in the village. The police ended up putting all the males into the suspects net. As a result the men had to go into hiding. So that basically left the women to fend for themselves and look after the children and the elderly of the family.
Shikha Rani is one such person who learned this trade as a child in her father's home. After marriage she continued this line of work at her husband's home. Because of her previous skills she manages to handle the business matters in the absence of her husband. At present she has received orders for about 5000 tiles. It's a monumental task but she could be less distressed feeling completely at ease being in charge of the big family. In days past families used to be like this with the female being the head of the household. In fact there were quite a few races of people who lived under the rule of women. Of course that was the tale about a thousand years ago. Sadly after all this advancement of technology and way of life somehow women have ended up taking a backward step. In a thousand years, women's lives have changed in a thousand ways. Women have to endure many different social, political and personal restrictions and taboos. Rashida sets off from home at the break of dawn just as the Fazr azaan starts. She works till noon as a maid at 5-6 different houses. Her tasks involve cleaning the house, washing dishes and clothes. It brings in about 3000 taka per month which does not leave much after taking care of her two children. Her husband stays in the village unemployed and does not want to come to the city in search of a job. He prefers to stays at home and live at his wife's expense. Rashida is headstrong and wants to work for her and her children's living. According to her if you know how to work there should not be any wants in life. The women of today are very aware of their rights and powers. Womenfolk who have been considered to be close to useless just a couple of decades or so ago are now a major part of the society, socially as well as politically. Mrs. Meherun of Pallabi had a lot of guts to take a big step in her life. Her husband's profession of school teacher made it difficult to run a family with four children. Not only that he did not attend much to family matters. Meherun knew how to sew and using that skill she entered into the tailoring world. She started taking orders and working on her creations from home. Small jobs of embroidery, button stitching etc led to designing and ultimately setting up her own factory. There she now employs similar women who have financial troubles. In between their studies the children also help out. Not only that Meherun now also gives part of her earnings to her elderly parents. She has a huge responsibility of looking after such a large extended family. At 52 she is still marching strong leaving aside any need for her husband's assistance. The primary goal of life seems to be the accumulation of wealth and that requires hard work. The fact that women are weak and cannot perform heavy jobs has also been disproved. The women of the poorer section of society have shown that they can do the same sort of work men can building houses, digging dirt, breaking stones and whatnot. Salma Begum has a similar story after she came to Dhaka with her three children. She found work at Gabtoli as a manual labourer. She worked with many others under the Aminbazar Bridge carrying stones above ground. It is obviously very difficult work. At 47 she carries about 150-200 bowls of stones for the meager sum of 150 taka per day. Her ailing husband lies in bed at home making her the prime bread earner. Salma is willing to do this work because it is urgent for her to receive the 150 taka every day. Hardly any other job pays on a daily basis. In Bangladesh's context women are victims of discrimination and harassment. Despite all that they have not given up. While many face torture at the hands of men they still have the resolve to rise above all and make a stand for themselves. Micro credit has helped so many women to become entrepreneurs and lead their own lives their way. All the problems women face in our society is like a dark cloud but as the proverbial saying goes, there is a silver lining. The hard work of the womenfolk is contributing to the welfare of society as well as economy. Women are working alongside men and showing they are no less in terms of skills or capability. It's a promising sign for the future.
By Sultana Yasmin
Translated by Ehsanur Raza Ronny
Photo: Munem Wasif